Shelly Domenech first joined the lingerie industry as an 18-year-old living in Hendersonville, North Carolina. She now owns I.C. London, a lingerie and fine sleepwear boutique located in The Village at SouthPark.
But it wasn’t an easy journey to get to where she is today. After being turned down by every bank to get a small business loan as well as operating a store during the recession, there were countless times that Domenech, 49, considered quitting. But she chose to continue chasing her dreams, eventually presenting her the opportunity to win the Best of Intima award, a prestigious award honoring a single independent lingerie or beachwear boutique in North America. (Lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
How did you get into the lingerie business?
The original owner of the store in Hendersonville, Barbara, happened to be shopping at a clothing store where I was working when I was 18, and she said, “You need to come work for me.” I interviewed with her that summer, and worked for Barbara for two years. Then she told me, “This is taking up too much time, and I’m going to sell the store.” I go home and tell my parents, “Someone is going to buy it and turn it into this cheesy lingerie store.” My dad, who was a residential builder, looked at me and he goes, “Well why don’t we buy it?” I still had two years left of college, so I worked there part-time/full-time so to speak, running it for my parents until I graduated in 1991 and moved to Charlotte for grad school. Immediately upon moving, I thought, “I’m just going to go around to a lingerie store and offer my services.” As I’m going around Charlotte, I found there were no good lingerie stores that did bra fittings, so I went back to my dad and told him this is really where the store should be. My sister was running the other store, and had told my parents, “This just really isn’t my cup of tea.” The Charlotte location was then set in Dilworth on East Boulevard, and we opened here in September 1992.
How did you come up with the name, I.C. London?
The original store in Hendersonville was called Illusions. There was a jewelry store here with that name, so that forced us to change the name. I was talking to Barbara and she said, “I always thought it would be funny to use that children’s rhyme, ‘I see London, I see France.’”
When I started working with my graphics artist about ideas, I said, “I think it’s so funny when people have the license plates and they change the words to letters.” So I came up with the idea of changing “I see” to letters.
Why did you choose to move your store from Dilworth to SouthPark?
In the spring of 2013, I had a Ballantyne store, which had been opened for seven years, and we had the Dilworth store, which had been there for 21 years. Both of the leases were up for renewal. At the time, I had two really small kids, and I said, “If I’m going to be the mom and storeowner that I really want to be, I have to scale back. We made the decision that at the end of the Ballantyne lease, we would just close that location, and we were going to re-up for another four years at the Dilworth location. A real estate agent came by the Ballantyne store while I’m closing up, and she said, “We have this SouthPark location available, and we would love for you to come see it.” I drove my husband over to The Village at SouthPark. We did one swing through and he said, “This is where you need to be. It’s a perfect fit for you.” The central location has been key, too. The Ballantyne ladies and Dilworth ladies could commute to SouthPark. We’re just super happy here.
What sets I.C. London apart from other lingerie stores in Charlotte?
We’re a bra fitting store that has the largest range of sizes in the Charlotte metro area, and probably bigger than all of North Carolina. And we actually stock them, it’s not like we just special order bras in hard-to-fit sizes. We definitely specialize in larger cup sizes. All of my staff are bra fitters. When people come in, we literally get in the dressing room with them and make sure that every single bra fits. So that’s kind of an old-timey service that a lot of places don’t have. We also try to have all the little things that people need to complete an outfit: slips, camisoles, shaper garments.